So on the one hand you have the most boiling, advanced, raw-edged, up-for-grabs, funny music of my lifetime, and on the other you have Suede. Guess which I was listening to? Guess which everyone else I knew was too? You see my problem, O reader. And for a few years afterwards Suede were a bit embarassing to me, the extent to which I fell for their hype a slightly shameful memory - shouldn't I have been a bit more sophisticated? Which was sillier than liking them in the first place, of course.
Suede were the start of something big for indie pop and the end of something big for me. Though there'd been stellar hypes before there were two massive differences with Suede - all the other big bangs had been predicated on there being something new on offer; even the Roses were pushed as having some sort of nebulous link with club culture, though you'd never have known it to hear them. But Suede were blatantly, openly reactionary and at the time that was the new thing. And secondly, thanks to the Roses, there was the sure knowledge that the indie press could get a band top five, probably higher, if it put its shoulder to the wheel.
And so the pattern was set for the nineties, bands making records which sounded like glossier versions of other records, bands whose taste was as important as their ideas...no, bands whose taste was their one idea. At worst it was desperate and stupid, a massive game of temporal let's pretend. At best it was a gleeful reconstruction of eras and styles whose only crime was to have gone out of fashion too quickly. But all in all it did something very big to pop. For all Brett Anderson's talk of a return to Stardom, at least part of Stardom - the part that pro-pop fops like me tend to powder over - is that the Star is impossibly glamorous because they're doing things you'd never have thought of. But anyone with a few Mott the Hoople records and a blouse could have thought of the things Brett did, no matter how much better and sexier he did them.
Suede were the end of something big for me not because of all this - how was I to know? - but because they were the last time I believed the hype, unselfconsciously and completely. My local friends and I all laughed over Steve Sutherland's hysterical live reviews in Melody Maker, but when "The Drowners" came out we all thought it was amazing, massive, a dazzling romper-stomper of a tune that we loved even though we were easily pop-literate enough at that stage to second-guess everything Suede were doing. It was Summer, I was falling in love, making friends, getting out, and all to these big crunchy riffs and teasy lyrics. And after Suede it was all a bit too obvious - you could see the journalists trying to repeat their success, you could see that the band weren't going to be able to startle in the same way again. And besides, I was going off to University and had a cynical-critical reputation to build which was hardly going to include overhyped indie nonsense like Suede. Does it still stand up today? I sold my copy ages ago, wish I hadn't. In my head it once again sounds fantastic.
I underestimated the urge to retro within 'indie' - a lot of the novelty I perceived in the 80s went hand-in-hand with pretty hardline takes on 60s revivalism, after all* - but even so the Roses, Suede and then later Oasis seem to me to show a shift in the way 'alternative' guitar music was marketed, an acceptance and then an exploitation of a niche, one which had less and less time for ideas of novelty.
On the other hand I think every micro-generation since the mid-80s hallucinates a 'death of indie' - I wrote a frenzied piece along these lines in 1993 about Suede's "Stay Together", which thankfully I never published anywhere. And here we are with the Arctic Monkeys at #1, which to some people will be a first coming and which to some others will be the beginning of an end. It's still true, though, that when I started reading the music press they pushed an idea of innovation and progress, and I don't think they play that game anymore.
If anything "The Drowners" sounds even MORE indebted to Bowie now, except it's much more sluggish - the rhythm section was never Suede's strong point and the song's chug evokes lager-sticky 90s backrooms much more than it does decadent polysexual glamour. I'm still quite fond of it, I could see it inspiring nostalgic delight at Poptimism, but even though I was there the fuss is harder to empathise with than ever.
*(As was inevitable after punk. If your discourse includes a moment after which everything was up for grabs, it stands to reason that all the old stuff is up for grabbing all over again.)